2016 Mullagh-Wills Oration Report
by John Holmes
Jim Stynes Grill MCG Olympic Stand– Tuesday 13 December 2016
I was delighted that the Foundation Members of our recently established Tom Wills Society which is generously hosted by the Footy Almanac were kindly invited to attend the inaugural Mullagh-Wills Oration which is an initiative of Cricket Australia with the success of the project being overseen by the energetic and passionate Head of Community Engagement – Cricket Australia, Sam Almaliki, thank you Sam.
The objective of the Oration, the first of three over the next two years was to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the 1866 indigenous Boxing Day match on the MCG and their subsequent 1868 Tour of England.
Dignitaries from Cricket Australia, the MCG and Victoria University et al, with many VIP representatives as well as various indigenous cricket and sporting organizations right across Australia were in attendance.
The night’s procedures opened with MC Natalie Ahmat introducing Aunty Joy Murphy to present the traditional Welcome to Country ceremony. We were then entertained with an indigenous performance by the very animated Koori Youth Will Shake Spear group.
The Official welcome to the more than 100 guests by James Sutherland (CEO – Cricket Australia) was followed by the introduction by Professor Warren Payne (Pro Vice Chancellor of Research and Research Training, Victoria University) of the first of two Orations co-delivered by Dr Greg de Moore and Professor Mick Dodson AM.
Dr de Moore (Associate Professor of Psychiatry – Westmead Hospital) is best known in sporting circles as the author of Tom Wills: First Wild Man of Australian Sport and one of the authors of the footy history A National Game.
Greg regaled us with the sad but spectacular life story of Thomas Wentworth Wills from his birth in 1835 at Molonglo Plains near Canberra until his early tragic death by his own hand at his Heidelberg home in 1880.
Greg’s detailed oration brought to life that significant moment in the history of Australian Colonial cricket that saw the formation of the first indigenous cricketers from the Western Districts of Victoria play on the hallowed turf of the MCG and two years later in 1868 undertake a Tour of England.
Throughout Greg’s oration he would occasionally point and glance to his right where the guests had a panoramic view of the magnificent, verdant MCG arena below bathed in floodlights with a network of sprinklers working tirelessly away in unison in preparation for the 2016 Boxing Day Test. How appropriate because, on Boxing Day 2016 it will be exactly 150 years since those ten talented black cricketers from western Victoria led by their captain Tom Wills strode proudly onto that very same pitch to do battle with a ‘stacked’ team from the MCC.
Professor Mick Dodson gave an enlightening but disturbing Oration into all aspects of the racism, hardship and struggle which our indigenous Australians and more particularly our aboriginal sportsmen and women have had to endure to gain their due recognition and equality in a country where the White Australia Policy was firmly entrenched from Federation until the latter part of the 20th century.
At the conclusion of the evening’s affairs I took the time when walking to my car to stroll past the impressive bronze group sculpture of Tom Wills and two schoolboy footballers depicting the first officially recorded game of Australian football in Yarra Park, Jolimont in 1858, the same site where the MCG now stands, the same arena where Tom and his boys created cricketing history 150 years ago… as I turned to leave I could almost swear I heard Tommy say “Thank you everyone on behalf of Johnny Mullagh and myself” … or was it just my imagination!